HP Photosmart B109a multifunction printer

A basic HP multifunction printer for home users

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HP Photosmart B109a

Pros

  • Easy to set up and use, good text quality, option for a higher capacity black cartridge

Cons

  • Poor photo quality, scan lid doesn't have a hinge that raises, no advanced options in scan driver

Bottom Line

If you're looking for a small and inexpensive multifunction printer for everyday printing needs (think recipes, maps, school reports and Web pages), the HP Photosmart B109a is worthy of consideration. It's not a good photo printer though, so don't think just because it has 'Photosmart' in its names that it will excel in this area. It also doesn't have extensive scanning features. It's easy to install and use though, and it's suitable for new users who haven't installed a printer on their computer before.

Would you buy this?

HP's Photosmart B109a is a basic multifunction printer for the home. It has four ink cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) and a built-in scanner, so you can use it for copying documents in addition to printing them out. However, you shouldn’t expect a highly refined machine for your money: it only costs $129 and once you print out a couple of photos or use the scanner, you can see why.

The most suitable tasks for the HP Photosmart B109a are printing text documents and graphics, and quickly scanning in text documents. Its printed text output is clear and easy on the eye as it offers a well-toned black and smooth-edged lettering. If anything, its black is a little too strong in normal print mode, but you can always print in economy mode if you want it lighter, and you’ll save ink, too. Now we won’t go as far as saying that the Photosmart B109a is good enough to be used for professional presentations, but for printing out school reports, Web pages, Google Maps and other bits and bobs on plain paper, it will serve you well.

Before you start printing though, you have to set it up. As it’s an HP product, it will take you a while. The setup process installs the driver as well as all the software and services that HP bundles with it, and it’s not clear that you can actually customise this installation and leave off all the options you don’t want. The extra software is for creating print projects, printing more easily from Internet Explorer, and there are also some service and support programs that actually send back information to HP regarding your printer usage. One program will even allow you to fill out a survey, and then, as it tracks your printer usage over time, will make you special offers on consumables based on that usage.

The entire setup procedure, including the hardware installation, can be performed by running the supplied disc. There are videos and diagrams to show you how to install the cartridges and align the print heads and, all up, the installation should take 15-20min. The print cartridges (HP Ink 564) are easy to install, but the black is a little fiddly as it doesn’t have cartridges sitting directly either side of it to help guide it in. You get a standard set of ink cartridges when you buy the printer and replacement cartridges will cost around $19. The yields for the colour cartridges are 300 pages, while the black is said to last for 250 pages. The standard cartridges cost $19 each, which means that each printed page will consume roughly 26.5 cents worth of ink. There are XL cartridges available, too, which have a higher yield. If you pair the standard colour cartridges with a $50 XL black cartridge (800-page yield), for example, the overall cost per page comes down slightly to 25 cents.

A nice touch is the inclusion of a sticker that has the ink cartridge model printed on it. There is actually a step in the installation process that tells you to place this sticker under the lid so that you can refer to it and easily know which cartridges to buy when it’s time to replenish the ink.

The mechanics of the printer are a little clunky, which is to be expected of a printer in this price range. It makes a lot of loud noises that will leave you a little concerned, but it’s all normal. It has a curved paper path and a single input/output tray that can accommodate 80 sheets in the input tray and 15 sheets in the output tray. We managed to print 20 pages without them spilling all over the floor. There is a slight awkwardness in the handling of 4x6in paper, as there is no real guide as to how far you need to place the paper in the tray, but you soon figure it out.

Because of the curved paper path, the printer uses space efficiently — you can place it as close to a wall as its protruding rear cables will allow.

While the Photosmart B109a is capable of printing photos, it doesn’t do a stellar job. There is noticeable streaking and a lack of detail. Photos will look okay from afar, but once you get up close you will notice plenty of streaky lines and colour bleeding, leading to an overall messy image. But the good thing is that if you want a photo printed out quickly, the Photosmart B109a will do a 4x6in photo at its best quality on glossy photo paper in only 21sec! By contrast, a text document with plenty of graphics, tables and some photos interspersed, will average around 3.6 pages per minute.

Scanning is simple and fast, and you have the ability to quickly scan to a PC or memory card directly from the unit itself, so no need to go hunting for your imaging program. However, the scanner driver has only basic functions. You can tell it what type of document to scan (colour, greyscale or black and white) and the resolution you want, and you can adjust the contrast and brightness. There are no options to get rid of moire patterning from magazines, for example, and this means you’ll have to do extra editing work if you’ll be scanning in this type of document. The overall scan quality is good; it captures fine details accurately and with the proper contrast level, but it doesn’t always get the colour saturation right. Scanning books will be a chore, as the lid doesn’t have a raiseable hinge.

Overall, you get what you pay for with the Photosmart B109a, and that is a basic multifunction machine with an ability to print very good text documents and Web pages, but which is a mediocre photo printer. It’s worth considering if you’re after something relatively inexpensive that can print, scan and copy, and even though we bagged its long setup procedure, it’s actually very easy to install and is a suitable model to consider if you’ve never set up a printer before.

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